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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 12, No. 10 July 2007

The Artist Marianne Fiset

by Wah Keung Chan / July 31, 2007

This is not a singing competition, it is an artist competition, and we have chosen the best artist,” announced Joseph Rouleau, proud juror-organizer of the Montreal International Music Competition (MIMC), of the 2007 winner, Canadian soprano Marianne Fiset. Blessed with a sumptuous voice based on a flawless technique, she earned the unanimous vote of both jury and public, carrying off a total of $49,000 in prizes by, as she put it, “just singing for myself and the audience, and not thinking about the judges. I was in a zone.” Although this sounds like a fairy tale, Fiset’s story is a 9-year journey of progressive development and hard, focused work.

Perhaps the best term to describe Fiset is simple elegance. When you first see Fiset walk on stage with her slightly slouching gate, it is easy to underestimate her. However, when she faces us and starts to sing, her eyes and her Mona Lisa smile light up the hall, as they had in November 2006 at the finals of the OSM Competition. Of the three contestants in the vocal category—all members of the Atelier Lyrique de l’Opera de Montreal—Fiset offered the best technique, with an innate legato. However, the international jury, including maestro Kent Nagano, decided not to award a first prize, giving all three a shared 2nd prize. “They told me it was due to the repertoire choice in the finals,” said Fiset. “I wasn’t at ease in oratorio, my weakest area.” It was just as well Fiset didn’t win then, because it spurred her to work harder, “I focused this year on improving my interpretation, working hard on the musical line,” she declares. It is just such a move that makes a singer an artist.

One can feel her self-determination when speaking with Fiset. It was self-determination that compelled her nine and a half years ago, at age 18, to call the Conservatoire de Quebec out of the blue to seek voice lessons. “I don’t know why,” recalled Fiset. “It was just instinct.” Up until that point, Fiset’s only performing experience was acting in high school. Madame Cestillini, the senior teacher at the Conservatory, suggested she study with Joanne Bellavance, also a previous winner of the Joseph Rouleau competition, the precursor of the MIMC. After six months of private study, Bellavance sent Fiset back to Cestillini, who over the years has formed some of the best female singers in Canada. Thus began a fruitful 7-year relationship at the Conservatoire.

“Madame Cestillini was confident I would succeed as a singer,” said Fiset. “I was lucky to have a teacher with such a solid technique regarding breathing and support.” She added, “I came in with a natural technique and we made small adjustments along the way.” Fiset said that she had to extend her range. Originally she couldn’t go above an A, but now she experiments with high Fs although her highest comfortable note is a high B. “There is still some work to do,” she admits.

Fiset’s hard work began to pay off in 2004 when she won the Orchestre symphonique de Trois-Rivières Competition, which gave her the opportunity to sing with an orchestra for the first time. Her friends and family were always supportive. She explains, “My parents came to every single performance I gave. Most of my friends never listened to classical music before I took up lessons, yet they also came to my concerts to show their support. I am extremely lucky.”

When Fiset graduated from the Conservatoire with a master’s degree, she was accepted into the Atelier Lyrique de L’Opéra de Montréal, where she currently studies with César Uolo. “The first time I sang for César, he said, ‘your technique is great, there’s nothing to change.’ We worked on mastering what I had already learned from Madame Cestillini. It’s been a perfect continuity, the same technique, the same way to place the voice.” What does that placement mean? She elaborates, “it’s placing the sound to resonate throughout my head, being careful to not be too far back or too forward.”

Winning the MIMC has suddenly changed all of Mariane Fiset’s plans. Within a week following the victory, she replaced an ailing Isabel Bayrakdarian in Toronto’s Luna Opera Gala, sharing the stage with Canada’s top singers. In addition, she has already cancelled her summer workshops to prepare for recitals and her first album with Analekta, slated to be recorded in September for spring release. At her side will be accompanist Marie-Eve Scafone, whom she met at the Atelier Lyrique. Unfortunately for local audiences, Fiset will not be returning for her third year at the Atelier Lyrique. “Many offers are on the table right now, but I’ll focus on building myself a solid performance repertoire, to learn complete roles and improve my oratorio technique,” said Fiset with anticipation. n

Fiset Final in Review

When I heard Fiset sing the Bolero from Vespri on the Internet last week, I felt she might not have the spinto weight to her sound for this extremely taxing aria. Boy, did she surprise me tonight in the theatre. She was impressive, singing an extremely well chosen program. Judging by the audience reaction, she blew everyone away. She possesses a big lirico-spinto sound with a truly lovely tone. It is also under near-perfect control, with a whole range of dynamic shading, from lovely pianissimo to powerful forte – without the harshness that invades some voices. This is the voice that makes one sit up and take notice. Rusalka was a great start – beautiful, poised singing. Her “Dove sono” showed a true Countess voice – with a dark-hued sound and all the technical control one could want. She sang the repeats differently, varying the dynamics and singing the opening of the repeats in one breath, as it should be. It was one of the best “Dove sono” I have heard in recent years. Her “Donde lieta” showed off her lovely and warm middle. The Rachmaninoff song allowed her to “let it rip” with all the requisite drama, but without compromising beauty of tone – not too many singers can do that. The end result was a huge ovation.
Joseph So

(c) La Scena Musicale